As a law professor who studies the increasing dominance of Big Tech platforms–as well as a developer who uses GitHub, I worry about how the proposed Microsoft acquisition will affect the software industry. At Michigan State University, I direct its Intellectual Property, Information & Communications Law Program (“IPIC”) and teach classes on antitrust, cyberlaw, and privacy and information security, as well as legal analytics. A graduate of Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School and former clerk to Judge Clifford Wallace of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, I have worked as an associate in large international law firms and an attorney at the Federal Communications Commission before entering academe.
The ever-greater dominance of a few Big Tech firms presents serious concerns even to strong free market supporters, like myself, who ordinarily would never begrudge Microsoft’s success. We gratefully concede that Microsoft and the other tech giants have brought innovation and tremendous benefits to the world. But, now, many fear that Big Tech is growing not by innovation but by leveraging their market dominance. Startups no longer aspire to become the next Microsoft, Google, Apple, or Amazon, but want to be bought out by them. Their acquirers may be more interested in eliminating competition than introducing innovation.
Big Tech’s massive power not only restricts competition and harms consumers, but wields a power over our nation’s communications and personal information that threatens core societal values. For centuries, we Americans have debated free speech, privacy, and intellectual property—and have carefully discussed the benefits they give society, as well as the costs they sometimes impose. While we have never come to complete agreement in these contentious areas, the debate has occurred within our political process with the accountability that only democracy provides.
Yet when a few tech giants monopolize these spaces, corporate policies, not democracy, provide answers to these debates. Decisions about how we communicate, the information we share, and the benefits we can expect from our own labor and innovation are made in the Big Tech behemoths’ corporate board rooms. Democratic processes or even market forces have little, if any, role.
My interest in the GitHub merger is heightened by the fact that I am also a GitHub user and programmer. I conceived and developed Criminal Procedure: The Game, the first gamified course to teach criminal procedure. I have also developed FCC Explorer, which uses analytic techniques to make lobbying at the Federal Communications Commission more transparent. These projects depended upon GitHub—I know the essential role it plays in today’s development environment.
While my writing is mostly academic, I wrote an op-ed on the merger for the Wall Street Journal. It received a great deal of positive feedback from other concerned GitHub users. While I have some experience as a developer, I am an academic, not an activist. However, I have put this website and petition together in the hopes that we can highlight the serious risks this merger poses to GitHub, the software community, and the nation as a whole.